Richard hugged Ellen to him. “Ellen, honey, you can see that Anita and Micah are a couple. What more do you want to be reassured?”
“Honestly?” she asked.
“That would be nice,” I said.
Micah whispered, “Easy.”
Ellen gave me a not entirely friendly look and said, “For you not to sit there looking fabulously beautiful and making me feel like an ugly duckling to your swan.”
“I don’t know what to say to that,” I said, and looked first at Micah and then at Richard for a clue, a hint, something.
Richard turned that handsome face to her, and said, “You’re beautiful, Ellen, you know that.”
She shook her head. “I’m pretty, but I’m not . . .” she waved vaguely in my direction, “. . . this.”
I sighed and looked at Micah for some help. He spoke out loud what I was thinking, “She won’t believe you.”
“What won’t I believe?” Ellen asked.
“Go ahead,” he said, and moved his hand to my thigh, which was sometimes more calming for both of us than hand holding. He kept his other arm across my shoulders.
“I’m not prettier than you are,” I said.
She gave me a look of utter scorn. “From one woman to another, don’t bullshit me.”
“Ellen, she’s not lying,” Richard said.
“How can you say that?” she demanded, and moved away from his hand.
“How honest do you want me to be?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Micah said.
“Not brutal,” Richard said.
“Honest,” she said.
“With the right makeup and a blue that had more jewel tones you’d look every bit as good as I do.”
“Oh, thanks, are you going to offer to take me shopping next to give me makeup lessons?” Her voice was thick with scorn.
“God no, but the friends who gave me lessons taught me not to be afraid of color and bright red lipstick, because it looked good on me and on them. You dress like I did a couple of years ago, more subdued, but your coloring is close enough to mine that you need more color, that’s all.”
“A different shirt and lipstick isn’t going to make me exotic like you.”
I blinked at her. “I’m not exotic.”
“False modesty is just irritating to the rest of us, Anita. You say you’re not exotic and not beautiful, and if you believe that than I have to be ugly in comparison.”
“Anita has trouble seeing herself as beautiful,” Micah said.
“No, I don’t owe her that story,” I said.
Ellen looked at Micah, and then at me. I glared at her. I was about to be done being friendly.
“How do we make the point without it?” Micah asked, and that was him all over, he had his eye on the goal, which was to make her feel reassured. He was more goal-oriented even than I was, but for him and for the fact that our little social group was actually working better than it ever had, I’d try. God help me, but I’d try.
“When I first started dating Richard I thought he was too handsome to like me. He was the kind of guy that made me feel awkward in high school, and that I just assumed would never look at me twice.”
She looked at Richard and smiled, it was a good smile. “He is amazing.”
“Yes, he is, and it made me uncomfortable at first that he paid so much attention to me.”
“Why?” she asked.
“He’s too handsome,” I said.
“You can never be too handsome,” she said smiling up at him. He smiled back. We were making progress.
“Richard was the beginning of me understanding that I was attractive, because if beautiful men kept wanting to date me logic dictated that I had to be attractive enough to make them want to date me.” I sighed, even to me that sounded convoluted like I was torturing the logic rather than making a point.
“Every woman knows how attractive she is, it’s ingrained into us as little girls.”
“Not if one of the people raising you tells you that you’re not pretty as a little girl, and not if your father remarries someone that spends your childhood telling people, ‘No, she’s not mine, from his first marriage. Her mother was Mexican.’” I did my best imitation of my stepmother, Judith.
“Your stepmother said that?” Ellen asked.
“Didn’t your father stop her?”
“She never said it in front of him. It was actually my stepsister, Andria, who told my father when we were twelve. She and I didn’t get along that much, but apparently she was embarrassed that her mother was so . . . whatever, but it left me feeling too short, too dark, too not tall, blond and Nordic like everyone else in the family.”
“Didn’t you see your mother part of the time?”
“She died when I was eight, and when I was younger I looked like she’d cloned herself except for father’s skin tone. Can’t tan worth a damn. Maybe that’s why my stepmother was so hateful, because I was a constant reminder of my father’s first love. Hell, I don’t know. One of the things you learn in therapy is that you can work on your own issues, and on healing the damage that was done to you, but you can’t fathom why the people that hurt you did what they did. That’s on their head, in their heart.”
Ellen looked at me. “What an awful thing to do to a child. I’m so sorry.”
“I didn’t tell you for sympathy, I told you to try and explain that I have trouble seeing myself. Micah is beautiful and he loves me, Richard did love me and he’s gorgeous, and I have other men in my life who are just as amazing, so, like I said, logic dictates that if beautiful people keep wanting to date me, then I can’t be ugly.”
“But you still don’t feel beautiful,” she said softly.
“Sometimes,” I said.
She nodded. “So you mean it, that you think we’re both pretty, because you don’t believe you’re beautiful?”
“Something like that.”
She took in some air, let it out slow, and said, “I’m sorry that I got upset and made you feel like you had to share that story.”
I shrugged, because, me too.
Richard said, “Thank you.” He looked way too sympathetic. I didn’t want sympathy from him right now.
Micah kissed me, gently so he wouldn’t be wearing too much of my red lipstick. It made me smile to see the line of red on his lips.
“The go-faster-stripe,” he said, softly.
“The what?” Ellen asked.
“The go-faster-stripe,” I said, “it’s what Nathaniel named the line of lipstick when I kiss them.”
“Nathaniel is your other . . .” she seemed lost for words.
“Boyfriend works,” I said. I didn’t add that it was the phrase I used for vanilla friends who didn’t understand our alternative lifestyle and didn’t really want to.
“So, Micah is your . . .?” again she paused for help with the right word.
“It’s okay, Ellen,” Micah said, “vocabulary for polyamory is hard, even for us.”
“I know that polyamory means loving more people, but beyond that I don’t really understand it,” she said.
“If I’m at a social event where we don’t know most of the people, then I introduce Micah and Nathaniel as my boyfriends, anything else just seems to confuse people. If we’re someplace where they understand what poly is, or at least it’s not straight vanilla, then Micah is my significant other, and Nathaniel is our Third.”
“What does third mean?”
“It usually means your live-in third partner,” Micah said.
“How do you introduce Nathaniel and Anita?” She asked Micah.
“My girlfriend and our boyfriend, or Significant other and our Third, depending on the event.”
“Then how would you introduce Richard?” she asked.
Micah and I looked at each other. He gave me a long look, letting me know this was my ball to hit. Great. “Micah has no relationship with Richard, really. Richard is never going to take me to a vanilla social event as his girlfriend, so that’s not an issue. At a more poly- or kink-friendly event, if we felt compelled to say anything, I guess, I’d say he’s my Top.”
Ellen turned to Richard. “How would you introduce Anita?”